By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Waste Management has successfully rebutted crime-fraud allegations that, if upheld, would have forced the trash giant to disclose confidential company records it says are protected by the attorney-client privilege.
In a ruling last week, Broward Chief Judge Jack Tuter accepted as “reasonable” company explanations for seven allegations leveled by Bergeron Environmental and Recycling regarding internal documents pertaining to Waste Management’s $510-million asset purchase of Davie’s Southern Waste Systems (SWS), including Sun Recycling, in 2016.
Bergeron is suing Waste Management, and others, contending it misled federal and state antitrust regulators to win approval of its takeover of SWS as part of a conspiracy to ruin Bergeron’s business and steal its customers.
The acquisition resulted in sharply higher recycling costs or cutbacks in recycling programs among the 17 Broward municipalities that until July 2018 had contracted with the joint venture Sun Bergeron.
In November 2018 Tuter approved a special master’s finding that Bergeron’s attorney had presented sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case that Waste Management’s effort to hide certain corporate records was bogus because it may have sought legal advice to perpetrate a crime or fraud. Bergeron accused Waste Management of violating a trio of federal criminal statutes regarding making false statements to a governmental entity.
24 crime-fraud documents
The special master identified 24 documents he found to be subject to the crime-fraud exception to the attorney-client privilege.
Attorney-client privilege is the legal right to keep secret communications between a lawyer and a client. One exception to that right, however, is “crime-fraud” that holds that no lawyer-client privilege exists when “the services of the lawyer were sought or obtained to enable or aid anyone to commit or plan to commit what the client knew was a crime or fraud.”
Tuter heard six hours of testimony last October at a rebuttal hearing, including from Waste Management’s Vice President of Legal, Sang-Chu “John” Tsai. Waste Management’s attorneys presented evidence that there was never any intent to violate the law. After the hearing, however, Tuter observed that the evidence had revealed the “sloppiness and mistakes” in the legal work that had accompanied the SWS takeover.
“The Court should be clear as to the impact of this order,” Tuter wrote at the conclusion of his 12-page ruling last week. “The evidence presented by [Waste Management] regard the mishandling of the closing documents to this transaction and its communications with regulatory agencies was at times suspect. The Court’s findings reflect ONLY that [Waste Management] proved by a preponderance of the evidence that there were reasonable and sufficient explanations for their conduct and communications. Ultimately, a fact finder will have the final say on evidence.”
Thus, Tuter’s crime-fraud ruling means that Waste Management can keep those 24 documents confidential, for now.
Fort Lauderdale attorney Brian K. Hole, Waste Management’s lead lawyer in the civil case, declined to comment.
But Waste Management spokeswoman Dawn McCormick said, “The ruling in this case affirms that Waste Management Inc. of Florida’s acquisition of certain assets of SWS-Sun Recycling in 2016 was properly vetted and adhered to all federal, state and local laws. Waste Management continues to be committed to operating ethically at all times to benefit the communities we serve.”
Bergeron’s attorney, Mitchell Berger, said, “We are hopeful that our case will prevail in front of the ultimate trier of fact, and other than that we have no comment.”
Questions about regulators
The fight over the documents is important because the regulators’ actions in the Waste Management/SWS deal are central to the lawsuit.
Both the Department of Justice’s antitrust division and the Florida Attorney General’s antitrust section reviewed the Waste Management/SWS deal and both agreed to allow it to go forward.
But one document that leaked out from the court clerk’s office in May 2018, and obtained and published by Florida Bulldog, raised questions about those reviews, while angering municipal officials who are Waste Management’s customers.
The document is a two-page letter sent by then-Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office to Waste Management’s lawyers in December 2015. It showed that the state OK’d the SWS buyout only after being assured by Waste Management that its Broward municipal customers would be allowed to renew their expiring contracts in July 2018 for another five years on the same terms, conditions and prices. Neither Bondi nor her successor, Attorney General Ashley Moody, enforced that condition or others contained in the letter. Bondi never even informed the cities of the letter’s existence.
“The crux of this case centers on the legitimacy of the underlying transaction, the DOJ antitrust review, and voluminous discovery pertaining to that review,” Judge Tuter wrote in a previous order.
Trial is scheduled for this fall. No exact date has been set.
joy / January 29, 2020 10:34 am
Waste management is DEFINITELY GUILTY IN RESPECT TO ABUSE AND MISAPPROPRIATION OF FUNDS (USUALLY WITH THE CITIES AND COUNTY AND STATE CONTRACTS THEY ARE AFFILIATED) IN THE COMMISSION OF ORGANIZED STALKING, HARASSMENT AND USE OF THIER EMPLOYEES AND VEHICLES FOR PURPOSES OTHER THAN WHAT THEY ARE HIRED OR CONTRACTED TO PERFORM.
THEY ARE BULLIES AND THEY ARE ORGANIZED CRIMINALS.
THE NEXT TIME YOU SEE A WASTE MANAGEMENT TRUCK OR AN EMPLOYEE LINGERING ANYWHERE AROUND YOUR HOME, YOUR VICINITY OR ANY WHERE YOU FREQUENT (ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE A WHISTLEBLOWER OR HAVE FILED SOME KIND OF COMPLAINT AGAINST YOUR LOCAL GOVERNMENT ENTITY OR SOMEONE WHO WORKS FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT, CITY, COUNTY, STATE) CHECK TO SEE HOW LONG THEY HAVE BEEN HOVERING/STALKING YOU OR NEEDLESSLY HANGING AROUND THAT VICINITY, DOWN THE BLOCK , DOWN THE STREET, OR DOING DRIVE BY STALKING AROUND YOUR HOME AND COUNT HOW MANY TIMES YOU SEE THEM.
TAKE PICTURES OF THE TRUCK SANITATION NUMBER AND THE DRIVERS AND PROCEED TO FILE A FORMAL COMPLAINT WITH WHATEVER CITY, COUNTY, STATE ENTITY OR ALL OF THE ABOVE AS THEY (WASTE MANAGEMENT) IS ROUTINELY ENGAGED IN THIS TIME OF ABUSE AND MISAPPROPRIATION OF CITY, COUNTY, AND STATE FUNDING.
USUALLY THE PERSONS THEY (WASTE MANAGEMENT) IS ACTING ON THE BEHALF OF IS THE VERY CITY, COUNTY AND STATE AGENCY THEY ARE CONTRACTED TO WORK FOR.
FILE FORMAL COMPLAINT AFTER FORMAL COMPLAINT AND DO NOT STOP.
THIS IS HOW TAXPAYER DOLLARS ARE BEING USED AND ABUSED THESE DAYS.
DO NOT LET THEM GET AWAY WITH IT!
CARL / January 30, 2020 2:35 pm
The BIG question: What is Waste Management and former State attorney Pam Bondi trying to hide?
IF everything was honestly done, WHY the refusal to turn over the documents submitted to the State Attorney for approval of this illegal Monopoly?
Why the refusal by the current Attorney General Ashley Moody to turn over documentation used in this suspect approval?
State attorney Pam Bondi ran interference for Governor Rick Scott in protecting him while he violated state law especially in regard to Environmental Protection. She refused to prosecute Trump University after receiving a huge Campaign Contribution from Trump.
Bondi also provided legal cover for the legal Waste Management takeover of Sun Systems. WM by Taking control of Sun Systems, that had been operating in a joint venture with Bergeron, abruptly denied Bergeron any acess to the recycling facility thus forcing long time tough competitor Bergeron Environmental and Recycling out of business.
The illegally obtained resulting monopoly mean higher waste and recycling costs for the 17 municipalities previously served by Bergeron.
Now Waste Management has requested that the courts do NOT allow the release of documents shared with State Attorney Pam Bondi that were used by her to jusrtify and grant approval of what has been described as an illegal buyout for the purpose of a monopoly in a publicly regulated industry.
The Republican controlled court has sided with Waste Management secreting away documents that would show how Waste Management misrepresented its buyout and then leveraged political clout to get Bondi to approve it without any public hearings.
We the taxpayers pay more to a private company profiting illegally at public expense.
Meanwhile Pam Bondi gets promoted to a cushy White Hose political job insuring more coverups.
The NEW DEMOCRACY? Screw the people, deregulate big business, give the rich tax breaks paid for by a reduction in public services for the poor, and refuse to turn over documents or allow interviews with government officials.
Justice is not only blind, the public is kept blind.
Catherine / February 4, 2020 4:20 pm
Waste Management started its business in Chicago, homeland of Mayor Daley’s Machine and “The Syndicate”. If anything was not on the up and up, it was our Solid Waste Disposal, but we didn’t mind because the city and the suburbs served were always clean.
The question is, who is dirtier. Bergeron is as crooked as the year is long. So whom do you trust? I’d go with Waste Management any day.
CARL / February 13, 2020 11:24 am
Not sure ” I’d go with Waste Management any day” when the result is a doubling of waste hauling rates for 17 cities in Broward. That sudden doubling in cost is a consequence of a suddenly created monopoly when Pam Bondi fudged the procedures failing to provide proper notification to Broward Municipalities and approving an illegal buyout of Sun Systems by Waste Management to ELIMINATE the competition.
Wayne Huizenga and Waste Management were trying to force Bergeron out of business for decades, just like it had dozens of other competitors across the country. Like the Florida Seminoles, the only tribe in America to have never surrendered, the old cowboy did not fold. So Waste Management reverted to its old ways. No, not burning out the competitors’ trucks like it did back in the 60s and 70s, but by a secret corrupt and illegal buyout that produced the same effect.
Their gain, your pain, because every resident in Broward County will be paying for it forever.
IF “Bergeron is as crooked as the year is long” why were his trash hauling and recycling rates so much lower than Waste Management?
Who’s the bum now? Start with Pam Bondi and Rick Scott who got paid off to guarantee huge profits to Waste Management at public taxpayer expense.
cavin cunningham / February 14, 2020 11:49 am
In Tampa they no longer even pretend to separate waste, so how is that even Management, lol.
Single stream recycling turned out to be a big zero. they still just dump, bury and burn, behind the walls.